Museum Exhibit FAQs

Paul Orselli Talks Museum Exhibit FAQs

Over the years, clients and colleagues have been asking Paul Orselli and POW! many "Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) about museum exhibit development and design, as well as other aspects of the museum business ranging from “What makes a great exhibit label?” to “What should I look for in a museum consultant?” We started the Museum FAQ video series to answer some of those questions in a fun and informative way.

Museum FAQ Videos

We’ve just started the library of Museum FAQ videos. Bookmark this page and come back often to view new Museum FAQ videos! Do you have your own Museum FAQ that you would like Paul to answer, or do you have a suggestion for a new Museum FAQ video? Just send Paul an email at paul@orselli.net and you might see your Museum FAQ featured in a new video soon!

 

 

 

ExhibiTricks blog

  • Designer's Watch List -- "Abstract: The Art of Design" on Netflix



    Netflix recently launched the second season of its documentary series about designers and design called Abstract: The Art of Design.

    I think it's a must-watch show for designers and non-designers alike.  Each episode features a deep dive into a particular designer's process and personal background that gives a strong sense of what drives that person and their design practice.

    Each episode of Abstract is a self-contained mini-documentary that reflects the personality and approach of each designer (ranging from costume designers to typographers to toymakers) so every show has its own unique flavor.

    I especially liked the shows from the current season that featured toy designer Cas Holman and one of my favorite modern artists, Olafur Eliasson.  Highly recommended!

    You can view the Season 2 trailer of Abstract below or on YouTube.




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    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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  • 10 Things I Learned As a Fulbright Specialist in Bulgaria



    I recently returned from a wonderful extended trip to Bulgaria as part of the Fulbright Specialist Program.

    During my work in Bulgaria, I engaged with staff and community partners at Muzeiko, the first children's science museum in Bulgaria (and the entire region, for that matter.)

    While my primary purpose was to help build internal capacity at Muzeiko -- related especially to exhibit development, prototyping, and engaging with community partners, I also learned (or re-learned!) some things I think would be useful for anyone working to develop better exhibitions and programs at museums.


    1) It helps to like the people you are working with enough to disagree with them
    The core group of people I worked with (pictured at the top of this post) included museum staff from various departments at Muzeiko, community partners (including architects and specialists in "Escape Rooms") and Joe Cook, a lead exhibit developer fro the German fabrication firm Huttinger.

    We had fun together and worked hard bashing ideas around every day, but even though I was the ostensible "leader" of the process, there were a number of times that we were all not in lock-step agreement with how best to move forward.  And those disagreements (driven by passion for the work we were all doing) were an important part of the process.



    2) Blocking off your calendars makes a big difference
    Whenever I share my goals and expectations for a workshop, museum folks often say something along the lines of  "I don't think we will be able to do all that ..."  However, the fact that people have deliberately blocked off time on their calendars to meet with someone from the "outside" provides the luxury of large blocks of time uninterrupted by phone calls, emails, and the many tiny distractions that normally bog down a museum worker's day.


    3) "Quick and Dirty" prototyping with simple materials (like paper and tape) is a great icebreaker!
    People often resist the notion of prototyping by saying they don't have the time or money to prototype -- to which I instantly reply, "if you don't have time and money to prototype your exhibits, will you have time and money to fix your mistakes once you've installed your exhibits?"  Also doing fast and simple prototyping exercises with just paper and masking tape is a nice way to "break the ice" by introducing prototyping as a tool for building internal capacity.




    4) Bring examples of prototypes, exhibits, and materials to the workshop!
    When I travel to give workshops (even faraway to Bulgaria!) I usually pack two suitcases, one for my clothes, and one for my workshop materials, including prototype exhibit examples.  If a (PowerPoint) picture is worth a thousand words, an actual prototype device or exhibit material sample that workshop participants can touch and try out is worth at least ten thousand words!




    5) Get out of the workshop room and out onto the exhibit floor!
    More action, less talk about how to change/make/improve exhibits.  I learned a new Bulgarian word during this trip -- the Cyrillic spelling would be: Можело. (The English pronunciation would be: Moj-e-lo.)  Basically, my sense of the word is "we can do this!" or "this can be done!" Exactly the right attitude for prototyping!




    6) Get feedback early and often from visitors.
    Forget about what you and I may think about these exhibit ideas, what do visitors think?  The only way to find out is to get your ideas and prototypes in front of visitors as soon as you can.




    7) Don't forget the index cards (and whiteboards, and scissors, and tape ...)
    Prototyping is a way of "thinking with your hands." But if you don't have some materials to think and tinker (thinker?) with your creative momentum will often stall -- so connect with your workshop hosts to make sure you have good access to tools and materials (even if you have to pack your own index cards!) 



    I really like using whiteboards for workshops more than those big paper easel pads -- they're reusable and taking pictures of each whiteboard before they are erased provides easy images to drop into follow-up reports (or blog posts!)





    8) You can prototype graphics and labels, too.
    In my opinion, you can prototype anything in your museum -- not just exhibit components, but also educational programs, computer games, graphics ...





    9) Cast your nets wide.
    Look for ways to amplify and spread your message during your workshops.  In my case, I was fortunate to also be able to present a workshop to museum professionals from all around Bulgaria, while in Sofia.




    10) Learn from people and places outside your workshop rooms!
    I have been fortunate to visit Bulgaria several times -- I'd happily suggest a visit there to anyone! (Raise your seats and stow your tray tables, because this is the travelogue section of this post.)

    During my most recent trip, I spent some time in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city.  Plovdiv is a cool combination of a modern city, a beginner's parkour course (tons of steps, hills, and steep slopes) and restored Roman artifacts and structures -- all intermixed with each other!



    While I was in Plovdiv, I got to visit the construction site of a massive Roman Basilica project filled with amazing mosaic floors from the Fourth Century! I imagine after the project opens it will be a candidate to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.




    To finish up my trip with a massive dose of culture shock, I attended ComicCon in Sofia it was amazing to see worldwide pop culture viewed through a Balkan lens!




    One last picture (and tip!) "Eat where the locals eat!" Here I am with some of my Bulgarian friends at a Turkish restaurant inside a Bulgarian truckstop.




    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to both the Fulbright Specialist Program and my excellent colleagues at Muzeiko for making my trip and workshops possible!



    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, please help support ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Searching for Index Cards in Bulgaria



    I recently returned from a trip to Bulgaria as part of the Fulbright Specialist program (which I will report on in more detail in a future ExhibiTricks post!)

    But for now, I want to talk about index cards.  In the U.S. these small rectangles of card stock (examples pictured above at the top of this post)  help people organize everything from recipes to doctoral dissertations.  So I thought nothing of it when I asked my Fulbright project partners at Muzeiko in Sofia to order some index cards for us to use during our staff development and exhibit training workshops together.

    It turns out that index cards are not really a thing in Bulgaria. 

    Even after exchanging a number of emails with pictures and links, my project partners at Muzeiko reported that if I wanted to use index cards for our exhibit development exercises, I would have to bring my own.

    So I put a large supply of index cards into my suitcase and we happily used those cards to sort through exhibit ideas and possibilities together in Sofia.


    The folks at Muzeiko immediately saw the advantage of these handy little tools and remarked that they were "better than paper slips" at organizing ideas because the index cards were durable and savable and could also be folded or punched through to help connect and express ideas.

    Also several of the participants mentioned that they didn't really think about "chunking" ideas (or breaking complex ideas into smaller parts) when they were developing and designing exhibits -- perhaps because they didn't have a tool like index cards to work with?

    All of this has me thinking about the tools we use, or don't use (or don't even know that exist!) when we are doing our work in museums.  Could there be some "index cards" out there that could be helping you do your own creative work in new and different ways?  Feel free to share your own favorite creative/creation tools in the "Comments Section" below.

    P.S. In the spirit of international cooperation, I left my entire supply of index cards with my friends at Muzeiko.  I can't wait to see what new ideas they come up with by using them!



    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, please help support ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Leave No Holes!



    It's interesting to me how often in museums I visit  (especially places with lots of hand-on exhibits) that there are "holes" in their exhibits or exhibit galleries.

    By this, I mean that some part of an exhibit (or an entire exhibit piece) was sufficiently annoying, or problematic to keep repairing, and so was simply removed -- without providing any sort of replacement activity or substitute exhibit component.

    This often leads to extremely confused visitors looking for tools or parts of an activity referred to in an exhibit label that are no longer physically there.

    Believe me, I know from hard-won experience how difficult it can be to maintain a large set of interactive exhibits, but for the sake of your visitors please LEAVE NO HOLES!



    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, please help support ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Don't Be An RFP Weasel



    An emerging museum recently asked me to review an RFP document they were preparing. 

    Unfortunately, a part of their boilerplate text outlined a number of tasks (basically "free work" like sketches, complete interactive exhibit descriptions, etc.)  that they expected RFP respondents to complete as part of their submission.

    I immediately informed the museum's staff that not only was speculative work (especially included as a requirement for an RFP) inappropriate, but it was unethical.

    Initially, the museum's response was defensive --  "we are just using verbiage that we copied from other RFPs."  My rejoinder was that making a copy of something that was bad to begin with, doesn't make the new document better!

    Fortunately, the National Association for Museum Exhibition (NAME) (one of the Professional Networks of the American Alliance of Museums)  has posted an Ethics Statement on their website that clearly addresses this issue. Item #4 of the Ethics statement states:

    No member shall solicit free or speculative designs or plans from independent designers or exhibit fabricators. Members should discourage the submission of speculative designs from these outside sources.


    In this case, once the folks at the emerging museum read the "official" ethics document from NAME they did the right thing and completely removed the offending language from their RFP.

    Unfortunately, requests for "spec work" still regularly show up in RFPs -- either by accident or design.  Sometimes respondents don't feel comfortable confronting (or ignoring) such RFP requirements/requests, but unless we help the folks issuing RFPs understand that speculative work is inappropriate (and also whenever possible calling out such RFPs) this practice will not change.

    Maybe once we eliminate spec work requests from RFPs we can also get museums to drop the stupidly archaic (and decidedly non-environmentally friendly) requirement for multiple paper copies of RFP submissions in addition to digital documents. How about if you want paper copies, you just print a few copies of them out at your museum to share with staff? (And do you really need paper copies?)


    While we're on the subject of RFPs, I'd be remiss not to point another great FREE resource (also courtesy of NAME) which is an entire online issue of articles (and "dos and don'ts") about RFPs including bonus downloadable documents related to the RFP process. Click on over to the NAME website to find the RFP Issue there.



    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, please help support ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"

 

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